Friday, May 10, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

MACC supporters enter the fray for $12M in creative space funding

Members of the Latino and Mexican American communities are pushing for arts spaces representing those groups to receive money from the $12 million approved by voters to preserve and create arts spaces.

Monday’s meeting of the Music Commission featured several speakers concerned that Tejano music and other Mexican American artists are being overlooked by the city, calling for improvements to the performance stage in Parque Zaragoza and possibly a brand-new theater at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

That feedback came before and after discussion by commission members about how a working group in tandem with the Arts Commission is progressing in gathering ideas and creating a process for deciding how to spend the $12 million that will have to be spent mostly on existing city facilities.

Attendees of a community input session organized by the nonprofit EQ Austin in late April at the MACC expressed frustration over how the city has conducted the bond process so far, arguing the bond language is too restrictive and that follow-up surveys and notifications for input sessions haven’t been translated into non-English languages.

“I hope that these funds are distributed equally … we want to make sure that minorities are included in many ways when it comes to spaces,” said Anna Maciel, former chair of the MACC Advisory Board. “There’s many people that are going to want spaces and there are many spaces in East Austin that are run-down. The city of Austin needs to be responsible for the spaces that they built. When you just give a penny here and a penny there and do whatever you want for the minorities it doesn’t work. You’re going to come up with a lot of angry people.”

Among the ideas floated at the April session was using some of the $12 million to pay for a proposed $2 million theater space that was part of the master plan for expanding the MACC. That space and some other additions were put on hold when the center was allocated $26 million in bond funding instead of the nearly $40 million called for in the master plan.

The next step in the decision-making process for the bond funding is a joint meeting of the arts and music commissions scheduled for June 8 that will serve as a large community input session. Feedback gathered there, along with an ongoing online survey that has so far received 360 responses, will guide the working group in fashioning its recommendation for how to spend the bond money.

That recommendation will then go before the two commissions for approval, with City Council next deciding whether to approve it and direct city staff to allocate the money to the appropriate organizations.

Music Commissioner Oren Rosenthal said the working group has committed to a process that is equitable and transparent, which is part of the reason some in the community see it as moving slowly.

“We are moving forward, not as fast as possible, but if we want to be transparent and fair we have to be very careful about every step we take,” he said.

Other arts group leaders tried to push the group to move quickly to keep groups facing rent increases or redevelopment pressures from being wiped out.

“I’m concerned that the input process hasn’t reached out to a lot of the major organizations and stakeholders that are in the midst of the crisis right now, or just about to be in crisis,” said Josh Green, executive director of the Pump Project Art Complex that is currently searching unsuccessfully for a new space. “Nobody’s even tried to contact us to get our input about our experience on what might work and might not work.

“I’m also concerned that if we start gathering input on every single idea of what to do with the money, everything under the sun, that it’s just going to be another omnibus 2.0 or something that’s a big grab bag of ideas where almost nothing happens.”

John Riedie, a member of the Tourism Commission and CEO of Austin Creative Alliance, said there is a danger the money could be tied up in a decision-making process that will keep it from serving its purpose of helping local artists.

“I’ve been a part of this civic conversation for five years and things get lost in commissions … it’s great to seek all of this input but not all input is equal, and the folks who spoke tonight have a lot more weight than someone who hasn’t run an organization,” he said. “We’re losing spaces and jobs while we wait, and if, like with other bond measures in the past, we are seven years away and haven’t figured out how to allocate that bond money, that’s going to be a tragedy for this community.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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